Our voices carry emotion, energy, vitality, and joy — they are a unique and powerful part of our identity and say more about us than we might imagine.
If you have any doubt regarding the power and influence of the voice, picture yourself sitting in a plane preparing for takeoff when the pilot makes the first announcement. Imagine how you might feel if you were to hear a nervous, shaky, stammering pilot telling you to “sit back, relax, and have a nice trip.”
The only instrument a pilot has to send calm assurance to the passengers is that brief announcement. Calm, measured, warm — it’s all been practiced so that the passengers relax. “It’s best to have mastery over something so vitally important,” says Gina Barnett, speaking coach for the Obama Foundation and the TED Talk Mainstage.
Something else to keep in mind: as our world becomes increasingly reliant on non-face-to-face communication, vocal mastery will only become more essential. Your voice is your signature.
To hone your skills, try these tiny practices from Gina’s book, Play the Part: Master Body Signals to Connect and Communicate for Business Success.
Start by Listening
Try This: Tune In
Turn on the radio, close your eyes, and really listen hard as you tune in to the announcer’s pace, volume, tone, and pitch. Notice how a broadcaster will use variations of all of these elements to indicate what’s most critical, the end of one segment, and the beginning of another. Focus on how he or she puts volume and emphasis on key words to indicate what should be noticed or remembered.
Try This: Stressful or Soothing
Next time you’re sitting on a park bench, at a cafe, or in a restaurant, close your eyes and notice the voices of those around you. Which ones make you feel agitated or stressed and which calm you down? Do you see a pattern?
Free Up Your Voice
Try This: Wet Dog Talking
Like a dog shaking off water, shake all over while speaking your name, address, and phone number or singing a simple tune like “Happy Birthday.” Notice how the voice quivers and shakes as well. Why is that? It is impossible to separate the voice from the body, and it’s essential that the body be as relaxed and centered as possible for the best vocal production.
Try This: The Lazy Lips Workout
If you notice that you mumble or have an abundance of filler sounds or repeated habit words, the best way to correct this is to slow the pace by enunciating more fully. Read aloud very slowly, enunciating in a very exaggerated way the beginning, middle, and end sounds of each word. Do this for one or two minutes a night, which is about all the lips and mouth will be able to tolerate. This is akin to weight lifting for the lips and mouth and is exhausting, but it works like magic! We all tend to have very lazy lips!
Great info in this piece – I would love some tips on how to calm your voice when talking to a large group. I’m very comfortable with public speaking (and speaking on Zoom calls) but twice now even though I felt calm and was well prepared (and did not feel anxious at all – excited if anything) as I started to speak my throat went dry and I could feel my heart start to race. I feel like my body is betraying me – I sounds terrified even though that’s not what I’m consciously feeling. What can I do – I’ve tried taking deep breaths, slowing down, ignoring it, drinking water, even commenting on it out loud. It finally calms down but it’s very unsettling. Any advice would be great!
Who wouldn’t want to improve their speaking voice? I want to.
Excellent information. Thanks so much for sharing these insights. When I try to think of the people I work with, it validates what you are stating here – the ones that have a calm voice do seem to have a positive effect on the meeting, and are heard more attentively by the audience whereas those that have an uneven pace or tone get less attention and have less influence in the conversation.
Voice, roles and reputations often precedes our physical presence before an audience of people. Therefore, everyone needs to pay attention to every aspect of our communications with others.
I often interrupt the person to whom I am speaking to interject my thoughts into the conversation.
I would like not to do this, but it is a habit, and not easy to break. Any suggestions?
You may have wanted an answer from Gina. If so, I certainly hope this doesn’t preclude that. This is a common thing. The problem is that people are thinking of what they are going to say instead of really listening to the “other.” Try really being attentive to what the other person is saying. If a thought comes into your mind when they are speaking, just let it go. It will come back. Actually, if you really listen to what the other person is saying, in entirety, you may have a completely different comment to make afterwards. Mindfulness training helps with this. When we become used to allowing our thoughts to just pass by like clouds and come back to our body or our breathing, we become used to doing this. Then we are more able to do it with others. We remain open to them and to the present moment.
Habits are hard to break. Easiest to replace them with a better habit. When you have the impulse to interrupt, replace that habit with a new of – a quiet, slow breath. Just take a breath and… wait. Listening honors the other person’s pace, thoughts and person. It also lets you enable patience. Trust that if your thought is essential, you will find the space to offer it without cutting off another person.
Actively listen and nod to assure the speaker you are listening.
Focus your attention on eye contact; cover your mouth with two fingers when you feel the urge to interrupt!